Xin Tong watched Leonidas Lambros deftly use his chopsticks to take the last morsel of sweet and sour pork and place it in his mouth. He seemed to have enjoyed the meal and that pleased her since she had cooked it herself. One of her more non-lethal skills, a hobby actually, it was something she enjoyed as long as she only had to do it when she wanted.
“That was an awesome meal.” Leonidas announced as he picked up his wine glass. He lifted it high and proposed a toast. “Welcome to Canada Miss Goa and thank you for a wonderful meal.”
The three-people sitting around the large antique dinner table took polite sips from their glasses.
“Thank you, Mr. Lambros. I’m glad you liked it. I heard some westerners don’t like Chinese food so I was a little worried.”
“Chinese is one of my favorites, though of course nothing compares to my mother’s home cooked Greek meals. I’d like to have you and your uncle come over for one soon, once you get settled in.”
“I can’t speak for my uncle but I would love that Mr. Lambros.”
“Please call me Leon. When I hear people say Mr. Lambros I automatically look around for my father.” They all laughed politely.
“Then you must call me Nancy.”
“It’s a deal.”
“Your uncle tells me you’re going to be studying at our great university. May I ask what subject?”
It was a mild evening in September. Leonidas had arrived at the elegant house in Rosedale, north of downtown Toronto, promptly at six. It was his first visit to his mentor’s home and he had been a little nervous. This was an old money neighborhood and he felt just a little out of place when a beautiful Chinese girl dressed in a pretty sky blue designer dress that showed off just the right amount of perfectly shaped athletic leg, answered the door. He was pleasantly surprised. He knew that the professor’s family had died in a terrible accident years ago, and he lived alone now.
The girl called out something in Chinese and the professor quickly appeared. The old man explained that this was his niece visiting from China. After introductions Leonidas handed her a bottle of wine he had brought with him and the girl disappeared into the kitchen. He had assumed her English was limited. He found himself pleased that her English was excellent, though she sometimes had to grope for just the right word.
“I’ll be studying Chinese History, though I’m afraid I might be overwhelmed at first. The semester started two weeks ago. I barely got here in time.”
“Well if you need any help, get word to me through your uncle. I don’t know anything about Chinese History but I can help you with any problems you might have with student life or living here in Canada. Your uncle has both my cell number and home number. Please don’t hesitate to call.”
“Really? That’s so nice of you. Thank You.”
“Don’t mention it. Your uncle is my adviser and my friend. I’m working on my Master’s thesis and… I discovered an interesting phenomenon during my research. In fact, that’s why I’m here tonight.”
She jumped up and began clearing the table. She could tell Leon was comfortable with both her and her “uncle”. That was enough for now. The last thing she wanted to do was show interest in his discovery. She wanted him to be convinced that any interest she had was in him, the man.
“That’s great! You guys relax while I take care of this mess. Do you want coffee?”
Both men indicated yes and after they cleared the table the men retired to the living room to relax and chat.
The professor was excited about being asked to serve on a special government committee being formed to study causes of, and suggest solutions for, the current worldwide recession. Though Canada and her banks had dodged the economic bullet that laid America, Japan, and so many European economies low, for the most part, it was in her interest to facilitate the recovery. Lambros was happy for Professor Jiang. The appointment was as big an honor as it was a responsibility, and Lambros was reminded once again how lucky he was in having the professor by his side as he announced his discovery to the economic elite. Michael Jiang added a tremendous boost to the credibility of Leonidas Lambros.
Nancy joined them bringing coffee on a beautiful antique silver server. The cups were the finest China, with intricately designed dragons painted on. She served both men, Lambros, the honored guest first, then her uncle. She sat beside Lambros on the spacious sofa and poured herself a cup. Michael Jiang sat upright across from them in his favorite recliner. The living room was filled with pictures and mementos from the professor’s life and travels. A myriad of awards and degrees decorated the walls.
When Nancy expressed interest in a game she had come across while channel surfing on the professor’s huge plasma screen TV, the conversation turned to Hockey.
Lambros was a passionate Maple Leaf fan. He went into a passionate account of the history of the game and his favorite team. He seemed a little embarrassed that they hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, the longest active cup drought. But like all good fans, he was sure this was their year…maybe.
“Do you play Leon?”
“Actually, I do but I haven’t had time to get on the ice in years. Since high school actually.”
“I’d love to learn. It looks exciting.”
“It is. But it’s very physical, also you need to be a good skater. Do you skate?”
“Yes, I do. And I’m tougher than I look.”
Lambros doubted that but he liked her spunk. “I’ll tell you what. We’ll go to a few games and I’ll explain the rules. Then we can knock around on the ice a little and you can decide if you still think playing is as much fun as watching. Would you like that?”
“That would be wonderful. Would you care to join us uncle Michael?”
“I’m afraid sports isn’t my forte but you kids have a blast. Just don’t hurt my favorite student.”
“Wait a minute! You’re supposed to ask me not to hurt your favorite niece, not the other way around!”
They laughed but then Michael added on a more formal note:
“Thanks Leon for being so generous with your time. I know how busy you are. It means a lot to me that my niece has someone I know and trust to help her settle in and get adjusted to Canadian life as quickly as possible. It’s quite a jump from China to Canada, literally and figuratively.”
“Are you kidding me professor? After everything you’ve done for me? All your help and advice on my project. It’s the least I can do.”
Nancy interjected with just the slightest hint of a pout in her voice. “Well, I hope I’m not…putting you out too much Leon. Is that the right idiom?”
“It is and believe me, you’re not putting me out. You’re a very pretty girl Nancy and I’m lucky I got to you before all the other guys at school did. I’m sure once people get to know you, guys will be tripping over themselves rushing to help you.”
Surprising herself, Nancy blushed at the compliment while the professor laughed.
“Now you’ve gone and embarrassed her Leon, and though what you say is true, I don’t trust any of those other guys. You’re like family to me.”
“What exactly are you guys working on anyway? You don’t seem too eager to get to it.”
“This is Leon’s project “the professor demurred. “I’ll let him tell you. I’m sworn to secrecy.”
Nancy turned to Lambros. He was relaxed and comfortable. She and the professor had apparently been successful in their effort to make him feel at home, like “part of the family”.
That had been the goal for tonight and she felt it had been achieved. He was an easy person to get along with, she could tell, and besides that he was quite handsome in an exotic foreign kind of way. No Chinese boy had soft wavy brown curls like that and she found herself resisting an impulse to reach across the space that separated them on the sofa and her fingers through them.
“What do you know about currency trading?”
“Currency trading?” she shrugged. “I went to the Bank of China to buy Canadian dollars for my trip here. I gave them Chinese Yuan and they quoted me the exchange rate and gave me Canadian dollars back. What else is there to know?”
Michael and Lambros laughed. “Trust me.” Lambros said. “There’s a lot more to it. There are people who trade money, trade currencies, for a living. It’s a big business.”
His eyes shone as he warmed to his subject.
“OK, first things first. Here is the definition, currency trading is the process of investing in world currencies. You buy and sell different currencies with the idea of taking advantage of the variations in the exchange rate. Got it?”
“Yes, that seems simple enough. Like buying and selling commodities, right? I know the value of the dollar, the Yen, and the Euro, etc., go up and down all the time.”
“It’s more complicated than that but yes, that’s the basic idea. Now the biggest foreign exchange market in the world is called Forex. It moves upward of two trillion dollars each day.”
Nancy shook her head. “I can’t …wrap my head around a number that huge but I get the idea. It’s a big market. It’s a lot of money.”
Lambros nodded and continued. He was in his arena and clearly excited at the chance to show off his expertise to the uninitiated, pretty girl.
“Now currency trading typically involves the seven most liquid currency pairs in the world. One of the two in a pair is always the United States dollar. It has been the international currency since the end of World War II. The other half of a pair can be any one of the big seven. The Euro, the Japanese Yen, the British Pound, the Swiss Franc, the Australian dollar, the Canadian dollar, and the New Zealand dollar. Are you following me so far?”
“Yes Leon, this is fascinating, but hold that thought while I get us some wine OK? It’s special, I brought it with me all the way from China. I think this is the perfect time for it. I hope you like it.” She flashed him a brilliant smile then quickly exited to the kitchen.
She returned in a moment with three wine glasses and a bottle of wine with a beautiful exotic label on its front. She poured glasses for them and waited for the verdict. Lambros sipped appreciatively.
“It’s fantastic!” he announced truthfully.
“The grapes are grown on Changbai mountain. The wine is made in my home province. A place called Jilin. I’m really glad you like it.” she said flashing him the smile again. She settled comfortably on the sofa beside him, a little closer this time.
“OK, finish telling me all about Forex trading.”
“Right. It’s important to remember that this huge worldwide market is entirely self-regulated. There’s no central body governing it or overseeing transactions. All the trades are based on credit agreements, so traders not only compete, they also should cooperate. There’s no insider trading or even any broker commissions.”
She thought about that for a minute. “That sounds like, what do the Americans call it? The wild wild west?”
“Exactly. I learned the basics of this system years ago when I was in high school. From the minute I understood how the system works I thought to myself, there must be a pattern, or at least indicators that a person could use to make money and eliminate most, if not all of the risk.”
“High school! Uncle Mike what’s the English word for...?”
“Precocious, and I’m sure he was. He’s my prize pupil. A teacher can teach a lifetime and not come across a student like Leonidas.”
“Wow.” she exclaimed quietly in awe staring at the embarrassed Lambros, who, not comfortable with such lavish praise, remained silent.
“So I guess you think you’ve found the magic pattern or indicators?” she gently prodded.
“I know I have. I just have to prove it.”
“Speaking of which,” Michael interjected, “I think it’s time we get started Leon. What do you say? Shall we move to the study? Everything is set up and ready to go.”
Lambros nodded and finished off his wine. “Let’s do it.”
“Is it OK if I watch?” Nancy asked, an eager note in her voice.
“Or is this super-secret or something?”
Lambros laughed his infectious laugh and Nancy thought to herself, a girl could get used to that.
“Oh it’s secret alright, but no problem. We just need to make the calls. I’m glad to have another witness and you can help. Could you do me a favor and bring my laptop? I left it on the small table in the dining room. He and Michael headed for the study.
Michael’s study, like the rest of the house, was spacious, elegant, understated, and beautiful in that way valuable things are that retain their beauty as they age gracefully. The hardwood floors gleamed. Lambros who had removed his shoes as you did when you entered most Asian homes, resisted an urge to slide across the floor in his socks. The walls were lined with books on a variety of subjects and in several different languages though economic tomes in English and Chinese predominated.
When Nancy returned with the laptop Lambros was seated behind the smaller of two desks that occupied the room while the professor sat patiently at a table on which a combination copier, fax, and printer was stationed. There were also three phones on the table and Nancy sat down before one.
Lambros plugged in the laptop and brought it online. First, he printed out a list of the agencies and institutions they would contact, complete with contact personnel and phone numbers:
The Federal Reserve
The United States Treasury
The Central Intelligence Agency
Bank of America
Lloyds of London
“We’ll start with these.” he said and handed her a copy of the list.
“What will we tell them?”
“You and I will tell them our names and that we’re calling for professor Michael Jiang at the University of Toronto School of Economics. That will be enough to get their attention and take us seriously. The professor of course, simply has to introduce himself.”
“Wait a moment. My uncle Michael is that well known at all these important places that we will get listened to just by mentioning his name?”
Lambros looked at the professor then back at Nancy. “In a word, yes. Your uncle has been on the short list for the Nobel Prize in economics for several years running.”
Xin Tong knew this of course but had calculated that it was better if Nancy appeared not to until this moment. It would be better if Lambros thought she and her family in China hadn’t been in close contact with “uncle Michael”. This would account for any discrepancies in her cover and fit the image she wanted to portray.
Michael came in on cue. “I don’t talk to the family much Leon. Most of my family members back in China are uneducated and know little of life outside their village. Nancy is the first female in our family to go to university and I thought I owed it to the family and to her to assist in helping her get a first-class education abroad.”
Lambros nodded, it made sense he supposed. He knew little of China and the Chinese and his whole picture of his mentor was of a brilliant, affluent, quietly reserved Canadian.
“Your uncle is an important man in economic and academic circles. I’m very lucky to have his help and prestige behind me in this. Anyway, yes, we just call and tell them we’re affiliated with the professor. We tell them that the professor has taken out eight contracts combining over twenty-one currency pairs, at a total worth of fifty thousand United States dollars. He will personally manage these contracts using a new strategy developed by him and an unnamed partner. This new strategy predicts exactly what any given currency will do to the minute, with pinpoint accuracy. The contracts are part of a controlled experiment to demonstrate the veracity of the new strategy and alert the pertinent authorities of its existence. Then you simply give them the current rate for the currency pair as well as the forthcoming rate. Do you think you can do that?”
“Yes. But maybe I better listen to you guys do it a few times first.”
“Good idea. Just listen to the professor make a couple of calls first. When you think you’ve got it just jump in.”
There were a lot of calls to make but they went surprisingly fast once Michael and Nancy both began working the phones. Lambros monitored his laptop for the most part, occasionally receiving new information, working it into his calculations and then passing it swiftly on to Nancy and Michael. Nancy watched him as he worked and found that she had to ruthlessly stamp out the weed of pity that kept sprouting in her heart.
Michael had arranged for the test calls to be ignored completely. He had contacts, many of them former students, at most of the institutions they needed to contact. It had not been difficult to come up with a bogus reason for the call and all the former students were only too happy to say whatever their honored professor instructed them to say. The only problem was the C.I.A.
Michael had no contacts there and would have been leery of making any kind of suspicious call there even if there was a friendly former student to receive it. He figured the best thing to do was to fake the call entirely. Lambros would never know the difference. He was alert and attuned to threats and tricks from the outside. It never even occurred to him that Michael might deceive him.
When the time came to make the call to the Central Intelligence Agency Lambros indulged in a rather childish impulse to make the call himself. He was excited to think that whoever he happened to talk to there was in fact a spy, even if she only sounded like a secretary or receptionist.
To resist his juvenile whim might have created suspicion where there had been none, so Nancy and Michael watched helplessly and nervously as he made the one call they could not control.
They could only hope that the conversation would be ignored or even forgotten in some bureaucratic maze of red tape before it reached someone who might recognize its potential importance and had the power and authority to act on it.
Finally, all the calls had been made. Lambros packed his laptop and the trio moved into the living room.
“Well, all we can do now is wait.” the professor announced from his recliner. “Don’t be surprised my boy if it takes a while for anyone to get back to us. These are incredibly huge and powerful institutions and the amount of bureaucracy one has to get through to get their attention is incredible.”
“I know professor. I’ll just concentrate on managing the accounts. When the money in each one continues to increase dramatically, someone has to take note at some point and remember that call we made.”
“Will you need any help managing the accounts? If so Nancy and I can help you. I don’t recommend bringing in others at this point.”
“That would be great. I have a lot on my plate what with my mom’s illness, my school work, and this project. Yeah, let’s set something up as soon as we can, that is if Nancy doesn’t mind. She may be busy herself. After all she’s a new student in a strange country.”
“You already promised to help me remember? If you are helping me then it will probably save us a lot of time and effort if I help you with this. I can’t think of a better way to get used to life here than to spend time and work closely with a good friend. Instead of work, it should be fun.”
“Great! Then it’s settled.” Lambros looked at his watch. “I guess I should get going. That went faster than expected but it’s still late. Thanks for everything.” He had stood as he spoke and they stood with him.
“Our pleasure my boy. Come back anytime. You don’t have to wait until we need to discuss the project to come back.”
“I will professor. Thanks.”
“I’ll walk you to the door.” Nancy said, gracing him with her smile. She accompanied him all the way to his car, where they chatted pleasantly until the conversation trickled down into a slightly awkward moment when Nancy realized that this felt like the conclusion to a date, a very pleasant and successful first date, and she found herself wishing that it was and that she could end it with a kiss. She wondered if he felt like she did.
“Thanks again for the meal and all your help. It was a wonderful evening. Better than any “real date” I’ve had in a long time.”
So, he did feel it!
“It did feel like a date, didn’t it? I was wondering if you felt that.”
“I did. Big time. But the illusion kept being shattered by your uncle’s presence.”
It took her a moment to process that sentence but when she did she smiled. “Well, we’ll just have to find a way to fix that. If we make it real, you won’t need an illusion.”
He stepped towards her. “I look forward to that.”
There. The moment was perfect for a kiss but she didn’t do it. She had watched her share of American movies so she knew a lot of western girls went a lot further than this sometimes if they met a boy they liked but not in China.
In China, if a girl was smart, she made boys wait. She stepped back and instantly regretted it when his blue eyes clouded with the slightest hint of disappointment. He turned away, speaking as he got quickly into his car.
“Call me if you need me Nancy.” and waving he rode away.